On Oct. 10 at 7 p.m., the sixteenth annual Life Raft Debate began. The participants included defending champion biology professor Brett Noerager, sociology professor Steve Parker, mathematics professor Scott Varagona, philosophy professor Steven West and English professor Pearce Durst. 2011 debate winner physics professor Kevin Hope played the Devil’s Advocate.
Noerager led off the evening by pointing out that Biology “deals with pee, poop and puss,” and also how humans were not responsible for global warming.
Next came Parker who argued that sociology studies relationships between everyone, and that, if let on the raft, it would help bring unity and harmony to the new world.
After him came Varagona, who explained that mathematics is always with us that we would need to start from scratch in the new world—mathematicians, he concluded, are experts at starting from scratch. He also said that doing math is like “weight lifting for the brain.”
West argued that eastern philosophy means that we don’t exist and that it is about sacrificing oneself for the greater good.
Finally, Durst argued that rhetoric is used in every part of communication, specifically when persuasion or argument is involved. He also said that it could be used for good or for evil, and, because of that, he should be brought along on the raft for the purpose of having an expert to keep everyone straight.
After all the participants said their piece, Hope did his utmost to criticize and demean each discipline enough to convince the audience to let them all drown.
In the end, the audience decided to save the mathematics discipline. When Varagona received the oar, he began lifting it up and down like a bench press–much to the delight of the audience. He is the third mathematician to be saved, making mathematics the only discipline to win three times.
When asked what he thought about being nominated initially, Varagona said, “Well, I essentially knew a year ago that I would be nominated. I watched former debates and thought ‘What a neat idea, a fantastic concept for a debate.’ So when I was nominated this year, I immediately accepted. I was thrilled.”
He said he thought he would be nervous, but when it was time, he wasn’t nervous and felt very comfortable and prepared. He also said, “Many professors who had participated and some who had won, some who were actually in my department, gave me pointers and told me that it helps to bring across valid points while also being energetic and funny.”
When asked what he thought about winning, he said, “Well, it always feels good to win, but the best thing about the experience was knowing that I am a second year professor, and, yet, I got the opportunity to take part in a real Montevallo tradition. I just felt privileged to be a part of that and then to actually win.”
As for next year, he said that no professor has ever won twice, much less back-to-back. He said, “I think the odds will be stacked against me because no returning champion has ever won again, so people will already think I’m going to lose, however, we’ll see.”
“I strongly encourage other professors to participate. It’s an enjoyable experience, but it also gives you the chance to defend your discipline and to let the students be informed about different majors. Also, I wanted to say many thanks to my colleagues who gave me advice and to the students, both mine and others for voting in favor of mathematics.”